I am nearing the end of my journey “home” to Tallinn, and am standing in the very long queue at the boarding gate in Helsinki-Vantaa airport, aching for dinner, a shower, and bed.
There is a Shuffle Filterer beside me. This is what I call those people who seem to have a serious problem with joining a queue at the end of the line like everyone else. They’re not brazen queue-jumpers like the people who pretend they see someone they know and just cut in in front of you; instead, they stand at the side of the queue trying to look all innocent and nonchalant, all the while shuffling forward inch by inch until the easiest thing for you to do is just accept that they’re going to end up in front of you.
In principle, this bothers me somewhat. In the event, however, I really don’t care enough to get annoyed. What difference does it make to me whether someone goes through the boarding gate 10 seconds before me? Especially when our seats are all allocated anyway. And anyway, in this specific case, I am too tired and weary of airports to do more than just notice the Shuffle Filterer in passing.
But there’s always one person, usually a middle-aged man in a suit, who absolutely cannot bear to watch someone jumping the queue, even when it’s not directly in front of him or even going to affect him significantly in any way. These men feel obligated to speak up and show the Shuffle Filterer the error of his ways. They will indicate the queue, and gesture at the end of it, and tell him he’d damn well better get back there, tail between legs, or blood will be shed.
As it happens, this particular Shuffle Filterer is trying to cut in directly in front of me, and the indignant middle-aged man is directly behind me. I hear him muttering to himself for a moment as I watch the Shuffle Filterer shuffling and filtering in front of me, and then there’s the inevitable sound of a throat being cleared loudly.
Excuse me! Excuse me! This is a queue! says the Defender of the People, waving his Finnish passport at the slightly scruffy-looking Shuffle Filterer, who steps cautiously away from me. He shrugs with a lazy grin. OK, OK, he says in a bored voice, You go past!
He makes a slightly dismissive waving motion to indicate that once the troublemaker has gone past, he will then jump into the queue, his reasoning being that the man won’t get annoyed if the shuffle filtering doesn’t change his own place in the line. Unfortunately, his reasoning is incorrect.
You must go to the end of the queue! insists the increasingly indignant Finn. Arms are now flailing. Much excited gesturing is being done. I am groaning inwardly and considering queuejumping myself, just to get away from what is going to turn into a hissing and spitting match, if my experience is anything to go by.
Look! the older man is saying, There is the gate! This is where people start to queue! They make a line all the way around to there – look! He indicates the back of the queue again. The Shuffle Filterer is completely unmoved by his passion, which infuriates the noble Finn even further. People join the end of the queue! This is how it works! This is normal!
He is shouting rather excitedly now. The Shuffle Filterer looks at him with typical Estonian impassivity. Yes, he says slowly and carefully as if speaking to a small child, but I am not normal.
I flinch slightly, waiting for a fist fight to break out. Instead, the Finn goes through a very weird series of abruptly changing emotions. He looks furious… then flustered… irritated… then resigned… and then he starts to laugh. He laughs and laughs and laughs, extending his hand to the Shuffle Filterer. Good answer! he congratulates him, shaking hands with him warmly. Very good answer! I like it. You may go in front of me.
The Shuffle Filterer grins and glides gracefully into his place.
I start to laugh. I can’t help it. I love it when someone is decent enough to see the humour in a situation, even when they’ve been in the right, and angry, and trying to make a point. I love brief little moments of amusement that break up the monotony of airports. And I love those outspoken Finns and silent Estonians.
It’s good to be back up north!